Thursday, 18 February 2016
Cochlea & Eustachia by Hans Rickheit Review
This is the first page: a small man with black hair, spectacles and a rolling pin for a head emerges from a cavity in a hollowed-out tapir wearing a ruff and blue blouse with a window in its side.
Puzzled? Reviled? Enticed? That first page is representative of the rest of Hans Rickheit’s Cochlea & Eustachia - one long nightmarish, surreal sequence bursting with bonkers imagery - and determines whether the reader is up for what it has to offer or not.
Cochlea & Eustachia are two scantily-clad young women in domino masks trying to escape the rolling-pin man’s bizarre gothic mansion surrounded by a sea of red bird skeletons. That’s about all I can figure as far as story goes. Seeing as the characters have hearing-related names in a dream setting, maybe they represent subconscious/repressed sexuality being heard/acknowledged by the author, trying to escape his “head” (the gothic mansion)? Really though I’m grasping at straws in trying to understand the subtext, if there is one; it’ll be a surreal dream story to most readers - any symbolic value was lost on me!
But if it’s just a dream story then perhaps that’s why the women are practically naked and why there’s a sense of menace and horror throughout: when we sleep we have multiple dreams and they blend together. So the author has a sexy dream which becomes a disturbing horror dream which becomes a tense escape dream and so on. It’s the style dictating the story.
While the narrative didn’t do much for me, I really liked Rickheit’s artwork. The blurb compares his style to Jason Lutes and Charles Burns which is accurate - if you’re not familiar with their work, it means clean lines and startling moments of body horror. There’s a lot of imagination in Rickheit’s creations and his strange house in the middle of nowhere is both a fascinating and unsettling place. The positive part of having an obscure story like this is the freedom it allows the artist to draw absolutely anything he wants and Rickheit takes full advantage of that here.
Because Cochlea & Eustachia’s story is so unfathomable, hard to follow and seemingly random, it’s hard for the reader to get truly invested in what’s unfolding but the art does a lot to make up for it. In the end it’s a bewildering comic but enchanting in its dark ambiguity and I feel it’s worth a look for the unique imagery over anything else. Fans of Jim Woodring will especially find plenty here to enjoy.
Cochlea & Eustachia